Hard Hockey Lessons Hopefully Learned

The Sharks competed in our home tournament this past weekend. As usual, the games we played were not without drama or ample learning opportunities, which I believe are a big part of what tournaments are really all about; beyond the fame, glory and medal ceremonies, of course. One of the things the coaching staff and I  have really wanted to work on with the girls of late is penalties as they’ve bitten us in the collective seat of our hockey pants on a few occasions this season. Tough to score or win if you’re playing shorthanded. And yes, penalties are part of the game. We just want to avoid the “dumb” penalties usually borne of frustration – roughing or retaliatory penalties taken in the heat of battle. To this end, a couple of weeks ago, I let the team know we would be taking steps to help ensure these types of lapses in judgment were kept to a minimum. I am not a coach who likes to “bench” players, however, I determined this would be the best way of getting the message across. I may be repeating myself, but one of the first times this new team “rule” was instituted, it happened to be one of the assistant’s coach’s daughters who was the subject, after she drew a 4 minute head shot call; during which we surrendered a game-tying goal. We were fortunate to come back and win that particular game, thereby limiting the sting of the reprimand; a measure, which has been used a couple more times in recent games and would be necessary this weekend.

This particular seven-team tournament happened to feature four teams from our league so there was a pretty good chance we’d come up against one of them, although we wouldn’t face any unless we advanced beyond the round robin. The tourney scheduler did a good job of setting our first three games up against squads from other leagues. Another goal of entering tournaments is to play against varied competition, but you generally don’t get much choice when it’s your own event.

Snoopy Hockey Penalty

The juxtaposition of penalties and drama struck early in the first game on one of the oddest occurrences I’ve ever witnessed in a game. During a mutual line change one of our defencemen and an opposing player collided only a few feet from our adjoining benches. Both players fell to the ice, but ours got back to her feet quickly while the opponent struggled to leave the surface on her hands and knees in obvious discomfort; that being said she was noted to return to the game no long thereafter. All the while, the game continued for another two minutes without a whistle being blown. When the play finally was stopped the head referee and one of the linesmen came together to have a prolonged conversation. Eventually, they skated over and summoned me down from the bench to have a ice-side tête-à-tête. The head ref proceeded to tell me he had missed what the linesman felt was a major tripping infraction; the operative word being MAJOR, which thereby enabled the linesman to call a penalty – a major penalty, which in turn meant ejection from the game for our bewildered player and a five minute powerplay for the other team, during which the first goal of the game was naturally scored against us. Not only had I never heard of a linesman calling a penalty 2+ minutes after it occurred, I had never heard of a GM73 Major Tripping penalty. To make matters worse, I would find out post-game the infraction also carried with it a 2-game suspension. We heard from the other linesman post-game that no official really saw what happened, but only the post collision result.  The only, albeit important, positive from this first game was an eventual 3-2 win.

So we would enter game two (and then game three for that matter) down a member of our defence corps. We were confident knowing our second opponent had lost their first game 6-0 to one of our close competitors, but we also knew all too well nothing is to be taken for granted. As the two teams took to the ice, I noted one of my fave referees (he says trying not to sound tooooo sarcastic) would be handling the head officiating duties. I wanted to be sure I properly denoted my suspended player’s info on the game sheet so I asked her to review it for me. She immediately asked what happened in the last game and I described the unusual circumstance as objectively as I could. She patted me on the shoulder, gave me a quick wink and said, “Let’s try to not let that happen again.”  I returned the wink, but dreaded what could potentially ensue. The game started and we carried a three-goal lead into the final period. With the other side having given up 9 goals to none, over the last five periods, they understandably started to get a bit frustrated and it showed in their play. Their aggressive play was unfortunately matched by our own. One of our defencemen in particular retaliated to being struck with a right jab of her own; earning her a two-minute penalty…one of those we’ve been trying to limit. Consequently, when the offender returned to the bench I suggested she have an additional rest.  “She hit me first,” signaled her mild protest and frustration. To which I quickly countered with, “Yeah, but we all know they always catch the retaliator.” To her defence (pun fully intended as always), even most NHLers have a difficult time grasping this incontrovertible truth and perhaps in this we are seeing learned behaviour. She hung her head and served her extra team-inflicted mini-suspension…lesson hopefully learned. The game ended with the Sharks registering their highest goal total to date (5) and none against.

Game three was a semi must-win or at least a must-tie despite our unblemished record through the first two matches. We knew we would be in for a tougher match, but would hopefully ride the wave of our last and eye the prize of a semi-final berth. A short time into this game it became apparent our referee du jour was very familiar with his whistle and willing to use it as both teams were tagged with early penalties. As such, I gave a quick warning to those on our side to be mindful of their actions. They were for the most part until a few minutes into the final frame, at which point we were deadlocked in a 0-0 contest. An over-aggressive play in the corner ended with one of our defenders being banished for the obligatory 2 minute span; thereby putting the game and our opportunity to advance is some jeopardy. Again, luckily, we were able to kill the 2 minutes with no damage done, but again I felt it necessary to allot an extra brief punishment to try to get the point across to the offender’s teammates. Having secured/survived a 0-0 tied score, the Sharks were headed to the medal round against their nearest and “dearest” rivals.

Our semi-final opponent was familiar, but a bit surprising, as the first place team in our league entered the tourney round in 4th place, though in a tight 7-team tourney anything can and usually will happen. Once more, we realized we were in for a fight to secure a place in the Championship game. Pre-game I had fashioned a new motivational “Survivor Hockey” sign instructing our charges to Outsmart, Outwork and Outlast the other side. And indeed they did, dominating the first half of the game on the ice and the scoreboard with a 1-0 lead. The lead would evaporate before the end of the second period, making the third a race to the finish. We implored the players to keep battling shift by shift. However, a few shifts in our skating gave way to the other team’s pressure and they notched a go-ahead marker. As frustration and/or panic set in, we took the first and only, but certainly ill-timed and unwarranted penalty of the game. Shorthanded, we gave up a third nail in our proverbial coffin when again the girls’ efforts lagged momentarily and the puck found the back of our net. For a third consecutive game, I found myself patting a player on the shoulder as she begrudgingly served a second sentence. Two hard lessons learned over the span of a single period.

So the tournament didn’t go quite as we hoped, however, it was not without value for showing the team what is required to win hockey games. Keep up your efforts, especially against the tougher opponents, and keep your emotions in check against the rougher ones….always. We’ve told them these are the things they are able to control, though both are easier said than done in hockey as in life. We’ll see how things progress from here with the hope the benching subsides because as Snoopy adeptly points out, we are all really “…such a nice guy(s).”


“Peanuts” image courtesy of http://www.nemhl.net/NEMHLNews_all_the_news.htm

A Good “Old Fashioned” Hockey Hazing Party

There’s been a lot of bad news recently around hazing and bullying in sports and society in general. Just this week we heard about a professional football player who gave up the game and a nearly $800,000 salary because he could not handle the pressure of his peers. No one can dispute these mean-spirited acts in male-dominated sports are not to be tolerated. So I was a little apprehensive when the Devil announced we would be hosting a team “Rookie Party” a couple of weeks ago. We have three younger rookie, i.e. first-year midget players, on the squad though nearly the entire team is new to this Midget A level. She assured me it was all going to be in good fun and that the three rookies in question were on-board. Against my better judgment I agreed to let the festivities proceed; under my roof no less. I figured this would provide a good bonding opportunity. Hockey Momma and I would be on-site to semi-supervise should there be any questionable behaviour.

The rookie “initiation”, over two months into the season no less, would begin with sending two of the three victims to the wrong address; a prank lost on the third who’d already visited our house on more than one occasion. Most of the team arrived early to watch the first unwitting rookie get dropped off then walk up and ring the doorbell across the street only to be greeted by our eight year old neighbour. Seconds later as she turned in confusion the team broke out in laughter and beckoned her to join the party on the right side of the street. The laughter derived from this first gag would be continuously echoed over the next several hours.

With no hockey scheduled until the next night, several more players shuffled in with sleeping and overnight bags in tow – 13 of 17 would arrive with only a couple members either having to work, unable to secure a ride or feeling under the weather. Their lack of presence was duly noted and missed by those in attendance. One stalwart teammate even made a brief appearance, despite having three wisdom teeth removed only 24 hours prior.

Our team captain, of her own accord, arrived with a special sign decreeing the “Rookie Rules”:

Hockey Rookie Rules

I think the sign speaks for itself and befitting this team is chock full of musical references. Mind you, I don’t need to know anything about how one “twerks it out”.

I’ve said on a few occasions this season if pre-game music volume was a determining factor in a team’s success, we’d come out on top every time. Case in point…just a couple of weeks ago our crew was getting ready for a tourney game while another game was in progress. The two teams from the prior game came off the ice between the second and third periods. This would be the time when coaches would have a quick pep talk and perhaps relay some tactical information before the final period. But as I walked down the hall towards our dressing room, the walls were literally shaking due to the beats blasting from behind our door. I almost felt like apologizing to the other teams and may have felt the glare of a couple of opposing staff members as I walked by. Though who am I to quell the pre-game rituals of a bunch of teenage girls. I will further point out that we won our first game of the year on the heels of the auditory deluge.

Back to the Rookie Party, where the next ritual followed the musical theme and involved dressing the three minor subjects in Elf costumes to partake in some early Christmas carolling. I am sure a few of my neighbours were taken aback when the answered their doors to be greeted by “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as 10 young ladies giggled uncontrollably while crouching behind the shrubs in their front yard. The rookies, to their credit, were more than willing sacrificial elves.

Hockey Team Party

The rest of the event was confined to our basement, which had been lovingly decorated by the Devil with nearly every Christmas light we own. Our downstairs was a veritable festival of colour. Other tongue-firmly-in-cheek tasks were reportedly assigned to the rookies and other team members equally. As the evening proceeded, amidst an unending chorus of familiar teenage squealing and laughter, Hockey Momma and I ushered down pizza, wings, meatballs, veggies, chips and dips; most of which were consumed in due course. Each time I descended I was greeted with “Hey Coach”, “Thanks Coach” or “Sorry about the objectionable language Coach.” And yes, there was unsurprisingly some of that from this rowdy bunch of teenage athletes – nothing I haven’t heard from them from behind the bench on occasion as they’ve returned from a particularly gruelling on-ice battle.

Being admittedly something of a Twitterholic and part-time online creeper I saw the occasional Tweet originating from my basement, espousing the virtues of the Rookie Party in familiar teenage lingo accompanied by an ample emoticons ;-p, ♥, etc. In one case, I actually noted a player from an unrelated local team, tweeting her envy of our club’s extra curricular festivities.

Momma and I retired to bed around midnight and the din of bass-laden beats subsided about an hour later. I continued to hear sporadic giggling for another 30 minutes. The clock on the wall said the next day’s practice had a pretty good chance of being unproductive with a weary bunch. Actually, I knew already the pickings would be slim as several players told me they had previous commitments to a country music concert, a university tour, work or a variety of other priorities. While I hope for full attendance at all practices, I recognize the midget-aged girls do have busy lives outside of hockey and they have to be given some leeway.

The next morning probably came earlier than many of them, or I for that matter, hoped, but the echo of giggling two floors below me resumed around 8:30am. Momma and I dutifully prepared a breakfast smorgasbord for the seven remaining players; some had already left to attend to some of their aforementioned priorities. A night of laughing apparently fuelled appetites as the food disappeared nearly as quickly as it was prepared.

Parents would arrive shortly thereafter to gather their weary kids and each would slowly depart, but not before saying thank you a half-dozen times or so. The good manners displayed by each was heartening. The Rookie Party, by all accounts, was an unequivocal success. The “Rookie Rules” sign was claimed by one of the hazees who said it would be given a spot on her bedroom wall.

While the girls reported having had tons of fun, the hockey coach hopes the occasion served to bring the group even closer together as a means to positive on-ice results. I dare say any team could only but benefit from this team’s fun-hearted hazing session. And the best part is I had almost nothing to do with it.


The High and Rising Cost of Hockey


The High and Rising Cost of Hockey

Minor hockey parents, coaches need to be aware of concussion signs and risks in children, experts say


Minor hockey parents, coaches need to be aware of concussion signs and risks in children, experts say